Steven Spielberg rejuvenates himself mightily with Catch Me If You Can, a sleek, frothy adventure that is original and inventive in every way that Minority Report, the ugliest film of his career, was derivative and dull. Leonardo DiCaprio, in his second great performance released in as many weeks, is back to being a kid again as Frank Abagnale Jr., a high schooler living in upstate New York who runs away from home after learning that his parents are getting a divorce. Frank’s not a bad kid but he’s certainly a dreamer, and the imprint left by his father (Christopher Walken)—a confident man who subtly taught his son to aim high even if it meant cutting corners a bit—can be seen as Frank slowly works his way into a life of white-collar crime. As one of the country’s most successful paperhangers, he forges checks and uses his innocuous nature to pass himself off as a Pan Am airline pilot, a doctor and even a lawyer in the downtime. There’s a joy in watching Frank’s wily escapades—when in doubt, the boy watches TV to bone up on how to impersonate whatever profession necessary—but although Spielberg has fun creating his larger-than-life 1960s time capsule, Catch Me If You Can isn’t always a laughing matter. There is a lot of sorrow lurking beneath Janusz Kamiński’s sun-drenched locales, and the film comes to rest on a center of unmistakable gravity, brought forth in the expert performances by Tom Hanks, as F.B.I. agent Carl Hanratty assigned to capture Frank, and Christopher Walken, as Frank’s father whose pride won’t allow him to step in and save his own son. Hanks, who was pressed into a mismatched dourness in Road to Perdition, comes back to life here with ebullience, savoring his character’s bureaucratic stiffness with a sense of humor that never becomes mocking. (He also gets to tell what might be the best knock-knock joke of all time.) But only from an actor as talented as Hanks could Hanratty’s role of Frank’s eventual surrogate father come to full fruition; by film’s end, he wants to catch Frank not to throw him in jail but to protect him. In a way, the film’s title is fitting for Spielberg’s elusive powers. Catch Me If You Can is one of his most gratifying films—it’s quick and charming and exciting without ever being too obvious about its intentions. But it’s also one of his most poignant, a film that’s meant to be savored. Spielberg dares viewers to dig beyond the glossy surface and find the seriousness beneath. This is no mere disposable entertainment; the emotional power is there. Catch it if you can.
- Steven Spielberg
- Jeff Nathanson
- Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hanks, Christopher Walken, Nathalie Baye, Amy Adams, Jennifer Garner, Martin Sheen
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